Friday, June 17, 2011

Ultimate Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

I don’t know what your mother said at dinner table when you sat and sat and sat before your plate, mine said “At least finish your meat!”
Meat was considered prized and even luxurious to waste. Throughout human history meat was not readily available to all at all times. It was a sign of status and grandeur and wealth to be able to afford a steak. It is still the case in some cultures today. But in case of here and now, most people eat it every day sometimes multiple times a day. There is an article in today’s New York Times (read it here: highlighting one particular group who is advocating reducing your meat intake and proposing going meatless one day a week. Besides the health benefits such as reduction in calories and fat, supposedly decreasing your meat consumption is good for the planet…believe it, don’t believe it, up to you. I personally like the idea of Meatless Monday and can easily forgo on most weekdays as well. Weekends are tough though… that hamburger fresh from the grill sure looks good… juicy steak, ribs. Dripping with the jus… Sorry, where was I? Ahh, meatless dishes! Well if you do decide to tweak a popular dish and make it vegetarian ( or almost vegetarian… I used chicken stock), here is a good one. Enjoy.

Ultimate Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

7 large bell peppers ( any color)
1 cup of black wild rice
2 Cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 small can of tomato sauce or 2 tbs
1 cup of dry white wine
2 tbs of Worcestershire sauce
1 large yellow squash grated
1 large zucchini grated
2 med carrots grated
1 small chili pepper cored and finely diced
1 small onion finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbs fresh oregano minced
2 rosemary springs
½ tsp of crushed red peppers
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-boil the rice per package instruction. Cook it only about to about half the doneness; it will continue to cook with the stuffing.

Add olive oil to a large skillet and set over medium heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until soft. Add squash, carrot and zucchini, salt, pepper and all the herbs and spices. Cook for a few minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Turn off the heat and mix pre-cooked rice. Re-season to taste.

Prepare the pepper shells. Cut about ½ inch off the top of each pepper. Core and reserve the “lids”. Stuff the peppers with vegetable and rice mixture and cover with pepper lids.  Place standing up in a large pot, making sure all peppers are fitting very tight, otherwise they will turn over while cooking. 

Add the stock, tomato sauce, wine and Worcestershire sauce. Make sure that the liquid covers the peppers fully. Check the broth for seasoning; you may need to add a bit more salt and pepper.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer on low for about 20 minutes or until the peppers are soft.  
Remove the peppers and reduce the remaining liquid by 2/3.   Pour over the peppers. 

Serve in a pool of broth sauce ( can always be mopped up be a nice crusty bread) and a bit of sour cream and fresh herbs.
Can be stored in the fridge tightly covered for up to 5 days.
Meatless Monday here I come!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The elusive Strawberry sorbet.

I have been hunting strawberries lately. Unsuccessfully, I may add.  You see, I need a lot of good, fresh, local strawberries, preferably self picked to make good on all the promises of strawberry ice-cream, strawberry jam and strawberry sorbet.  The ice-cream and the sorbet have been inside my head since the most miserable winter months, I was dreaming of fresh, sweet strawberries that fill the whole house with fragrance.  The jam, like my grandmother used to make, with slices of lemon and tiny firm strawberries added at the very end, was promised to quite a few folks. 
I thought that as soon as strawberry season hits, I would go picking and utilizing own children’s labor pick enough strawberries to fully satisfy all of the above ambitions.  Yeh, right?  Nothing ever goes as planned anymore.  Early in the strawberry season it was so cold that I didn’t even bother finding out if the berries where available for picking, I just assumed they were not.  Mid-season, my weekends got a bit hectic and I just couldn’t find the time to go.  As it got later and later in the season I got worried that I will miss out, so I attempted to pick last weekend, but the farm was closed… “Due to ripening” .. I was told.  What does that even mean?  Did the strawberries not yet ripen or ripen too much?  They happily informed me that they will be available for picking first thing Monday morning, of course when the rest of the world including me, has to go to work. 
So I went to plan B, thinking I will buy some strawberries at the local market, perhaps enough for the sorbet and ice-cream and pick the rest the following weekend.  Tuesday’s market was closed due to extreme heat.  By the time I got to the local market on Wednesday, they were all packed up to leave early, also due to heat.   I got some strawberries at the downtown market on Thursday but they only had a few boxes left, so it was not nearly enough for me.  The weekend phone call to the farms revealed that I was too late, the season is over….  Damn!
I did get to make the sorbet with a bit of berries I got… and it is (was) delicious, refreshing and light.   So here it is:

For the Sorbet:
2 pints of strawberries de-stemmed.
¾ cup of water
½ cup of sugar or ¼ cup agave syrup
Juice of one lemon
1 tbs of vodka


Combine the berries, water, sugar ( or syrup) and the lemon juice in the blender and puree until smooth. 

Transfer to pot and cook on low heat for 5 – 7 minutes, don’t boil the mixture.

Stir in the vodka and chill for a few hours or overnight.  Freeze in your ice-cream maker as per manufacturer’s instructions.

Now to all who were promised the jam, I am sorry, better luck next year.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lemon cream berry tart

When reading other people’s food blogs, you see only the rosy sides of the kitchen.  Everything is always perfectly cooked, photographed, all the flavors work great together and everything comes out just right.  Oh boy, if you only knew!  I think I need to remind myself that everyone who has ever challenged themselves in the kitchen goes through a phase when nothing comes out right.   I have wanted to rename my blog to “kitchen disasters” lately as things have not been working out as I hope.  As I am struggling to find successes to post each week, I can’t help and mourn mountains of expensive flour that went into the perfectly formed bricks of bread made with my naturally grown yeast.  As a matter a fact I should have donated all that bread to the local Home depot, as I am sure it would make a wonderful building material.
 I mourn the great idea of pizza on the grill, again made with the natural starter, the dough looked so wrong I didn’t even bother trying to make it.   I think of everything stuck to the pans, burned, over or under- seasoned and plainly not tasting great, ice-creams don’t freeze, gels don’t gel, you get the idea…  …it is as if I lost my cooking mojo lately. It is very sad.
I may just do a blog on the most horrendous bloopers, you know, the kind you can see at the end of the movie. 
Even when things work out it doesn’t mean they will make it to the table in pristine condition.  I recently made two beautiful lemon cream berry tart.  One traveled to a friend’s house and one stayed home to chill.  Let’s just say that if you plan to take an hour drive with a delicate tart, don’t let your husband pack it and don’t overestimate the quality of roads in the state of New Jersey.  The poor thing was tasty but looked very sorry upon arrival with all the berries drowned in cream. 
Just to redeem myself, here is the recipe of the tart and the pictures. 
Lemon cream Berry tart
For the dough
1 ½ cups of all purpose flour
1 stick of butter, cubed and ice cold
1 tbs sugar
¼ tsp of salt
1 egg  lightly beaten
1 -2 tbs of ice water

For Lemon Cream
1 stick of butter
2 cups of sugar
Zest of 6 – 8 lemons
¼ cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 Extra large eggs
¼  tsp of salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
Assorted fresh berries

Prepare the tart shell.  In the food processor pulse flour and butter until it resembles coarse cornmeal.  Add the sugar, salt and the egg and pulse until the ball of dough is just formed.  If the dough is still to dry and not coming together, add the ice water one tablespoon at the time.
Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.  Roll the dough and press into the buttered 9” tart pan with removable bottom.  Make sure that the dough is evenly distributed and that there are no tears.  Let the uncooked tart shell rest in the freezer for 10 – 20 min.
Preheat the oven to 375F.  Butter the non-stick side of the aluminum foil sheet and press into the tart shell.  Fill with pie weights, uncooked rice or beans.  Cook for 15 min, than remove the foil and weights and cook uncovered for another 15 – 20 minutes, until the tart is golden brown.  Rotate if needed to ensure even cooking.
Let cool completely on a wire rack.

In the mean time, prepare the lemon cream.  In the standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and 1 ¼ cups of sugar until pale yellow and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at the time, making sure they are completely incorporated.  Add the salt, zest and lemon juice and mix well.  Transfer the mixture to a heavy bottomed sauce pan and cook stirring over medium heat until the custard begins to thicken.  Once the mixture reaches a consistency of thick custard, cover it with plastic wrap, placing it directly on the surface of the curd (to prevent crusting).  Cool in the fridge for at least a few hours or overnight.
Whisk the whipping cream with remaining sugar and vanilla to a whipped cream consistency.  Fold the cream and lemon curd together gently with a rubber spatula until no white cream traces are visible.

Fill the shell and smooth out the top.  Let the tart set in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.  Decorate with berries before serving.  If the berries are added to the tart long in advance, there is the danger that they will begin giving off juice and ruining the cream’s consistency.

this is the tart that stayed home


For the record, here is the tart that didn’t travel well, before its journey.
Whish me luck, I am going strawberry picking this weekend with hopes of making ice cream and jam.  I better not screw that up as I doubt my family will forgive me for making them slave in the fields just so I can publish the bloopers.